Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Puff Pastry Appetizers with Bratwurst and Andouille Sausages

My husband and I don't collaborate often in matters culinary, mostly because my menu making and grocery shopping and dinner starting are all usually done while he's busy at work.  But when we do get together, it's often amazing.

We were tasked with bringing a dish to a family Thanksgiving gathering, and rather than my usual dessert category, I wanted to make an interesting savory appetizer.  With Dear Husband's help, it was decided that I'd start with a puff pastry base and make two incarnations, both laden with sausage: one with bratwurst, and one with andouille (Cajun smoked sausage). 

The bratwurst variation used a special seasonal sausage made with Spaten beer by our local German deli and restaurant, Siegi's.  We used Siegi's for the Cajun version, also.  While choosing our sausages, we tasted a few kinds of cheese available at the deli to determine the best pairings.  Jarlsberg (like Swiss) was chosen for the bratwurst and smoked cheddar was chosen for the andouille.

A test run of cooking helped me decide what other toppings would pair well.  Sauerkraut and onions were a no-brainer for the brats.  The andouille was a little tricker.  Thinking back to my favorite Cajun dishes, bell pepper repeatedly popped up as an ingredient.  I used both green and yellow bells.  I also tried and really liked diced sun-dried tomato- it added richness.

The veggies were sauteed in butter before the diced sausage was added and heated through.  Then the mess was spread onto a sheet of puff pastry and sprinkled with cheese before baking according to the puff pastry package directions.  With the heavy load of toppings, baking times were a little longer than expected, but still worthwhile.

While the puff pastry was a little limp underneath, the overall effect was achieved and the appetizers garnered rave reviews.  Next time, I might put squares of pastry into mini muffin tins and make little pouches instead of a big pizza style sheet.

Spaten beer bratwurst.  Achtung!

Smoked andouille sausage.  Ha eee, I gah-ron-tee!

Andouille with yellow and green bell pepper.

Diced sun-dried tomatoes.

Bratwurst with red onions.

Puff pastry on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Bratwurst, drained sauerkraut, red onion, and Jarlsberg cheese.

Andouille, bell pepper, sun-dried tomato, and smoked cheddar cheese.

Roast Beef Sandwiches with Au Jus

For most people, a homemade roast beef sandwich is an elusive delight.  However, with a little know-how, tender and delicious meaty goodness can be yours at home.

It all starts with time and a good cut of beef - arm roast, in this case.  A chuck roast would work, as well.  You want a thick, well-marbled piece of beef, and you want to season it gently and cook it slowly so that the lovely fat and connective tissue inside can work their magic.

A cast iron Dutch oven is a must for any cook, I've come to find.  When I received one as a Christmas gift years ago, I was doubtful about how often I'd actually use it.  Little did I know.  It's one of my favorite pots now, glossy and seasoned to perfection, and perfect for making delectable pot roast.

I started with about a 2 1/2 pound arm roast, purchased from a local family-owned farm- fabulous grass-fed, hormone free Oklahoma beef (no more grocery store crap for us, tyvm).  I slathered the roast with a paste of kosher salt, fresh black pepper, minced garlic, chopped rosemary, and extra virgin olive oil, plunked it down in the Dutch oven, slapped on the lid, and threw the whole thing into a 350ยบ oven.  (My, that was some violent cooking!)

After about 3 1/2 hours, the meat was tender and tasty.  While it cooked, I prepared the rest of the goodies for the sandwiches: caramelized red onions and crusty rolls with Swiss cheese.  The onions are sliced fairly thick and sauteed in butter over medium-low heat until softened and slightly browned.  Crusty French rolls are split, buttered, toasted, and dressed with Swiss cheese that is then melted under the broiler.

When the meat was ready, I set the roast aside, strained the pan juices into a saucepan, added some beef broth (hot water and a bouillon cube), and brought the liquid to a simmer.  Taste, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if needed.  Slice the roast with a serrated knife across the grain into 1/4" slabs, layer onto the toasted and cheesed rolls, top with onions, and serve with cups of au jus gravy.

Oh hell yes!

Pepper, kosher salt, minced garlic, and minced rosemary.

Lovely bit of beef.

Making the tasty paste for the meat.

Slathered, smothered, and covered.

Yay for beef!!!  I made a semi-healthy avocado pico de gallo salad to balance the meaty overload.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Neapolitan Style Limoncello

A Facebook link to this blog post last month intrigued me.  The post is all about making homemade limoncello, an Italian style lemon liqueur.  With the holiday party season fast approaching, I jumped at the chance to make a tasty libation for sharing.  Booze, lemons, sugar...what's not to love, right?

The limoncello itself is super easy to make.  The only thing you need to have is patience.  It takes about 30 days to steep the lemon peels, and I'd recommend heartily that you give your finished limoncello at least another week to mellow before serving.  There's a noticeable difference in flavor after a week- less hellfire and more lemony sweetness.

The magic all starts with grain alcohol- the revered and feared Everclear.  Everclear is mighty powerful stuff, and although it's diluted by half with sugar syrup, it'll still knock you on your ass if you're not careful.  I dunno if there's a connection, but I served this stuff at a party last weekend and there was very nearly a drunken brawl shortly thereafter.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

Anyhoo, on with the show.  Check the link above for the actual recipe.  It turns out I used 750mL of Everclear instead of the 1L called for, but it's so stout, I doubt I'd use a whole liter next time.

Limoncello is delicious as an aperitif or as part of a mixed drink.  Keep a bottle in the freezer, because it tastes best ice cold.  I like mine mixed with Sprite and ice.  I think it might also be good in a champagne cocktail.  Although I can't in good conscience recommend it, it's a fantastic shooter as well.

Removing lemon zest with a vegetable peeler- by far the easiest way.

Don't scrape into the bitter white pith.

Illegal in some states.

Good time to use that glass pickle jar you've been holding on to.  Let the peels soak in the booze for a good month.

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.  I made a big ass pitcher of lemonade with the juice.  Nothing wasted!

The lemon peels have been seriously dessicated after 30 days in Everclear.

Lemon-tinged Everclear.  A most unappetizing color at this stage.

750 grams of sugar for simple syrup.  Thanks for jacking my pics up, Blogger.

One liter of water for simple syrup.

After boiling the simple syrup, remove from heat, add lemon peels, and let cool.

Mixing the two parts together.  Notice the lovely milky yellow hue.

Grolsch beer bottles work great because of the nifty flip tops, and my husband was kind enough to drink some of his beer for me so I could have them.  I filled four bottles, which are 16 oz. each.

After straining the lemon peels from the simple syrup, I tossed them with sugar and allowed them to dry.  Well, I allowed most of them to dry.  They were so delicious I ate a bunch while they were damp.

Holy crap, do I suck at blogging.

Yep.  I suck at blogging.  It's been since the beginning of November that I last posted.  /facepalm

My apologies, minions.  It's not that I haven't been cooking, and I have taken some pictures with the intent of posting.  I guess the impetus to actually write about it hasn't been with me this holiday season.  So please, forgive me, and check back over the next couple of days for some real updates.

Coming soon are posts about making Neapolitan style limoncello, beef stroganoff, stromboli, puff pastry appetizers, roast beef sandwiches, and more.

Thanks for still reading!